Instead of picking a specific destination for January's Compass Dinner at Departure Restaurant, Chef Gregory Gourdet made a choice of taking us along the Silk Road along with his partners for the night, Chef Ken Norris of Clutch Sausagery and Lyf Gildersleeve of Flying Fish Company. Their plan was to highlight sustainable seafood. My plan was to see how this all comes together.
First up was a cocktail to start the evening. Silk Road Sours were being mixed near our tables reminiscent of dining cars on the Orient Express. The drink featured egg white, Bombay Sapphire East Gin, lemon, and vanilla cardamom clove syrup. For me the flavor was mellow.
We began with a raw Snapper Crudo with citrus, turmeric and chili which gave a bit of sizzle on the tongue. Please note the crispy skin which must be a nod to Chef Gourdet's latest broadcast round on Top Chef.
At this point Chef Gourdet came out to introduce his partners for the evening. Chef Ken Norris partnered in the kitchen and Lyf Gildersleeve spoke later about Flying Fish Company, his background and where the seafood for each dish came from. He is committed to providing sustainable seafood for Portland.
We were then served this striking plate of an Uni and Quail Egg Yolk Shooter with Blood Orange and salt. While a lot of people would pass on this, I have to say it was delicious. Right now sea urchin roe is popular on menus around town. My suggestion is if you want to try it ask where the uni is from because fresher is better. I think ours was from San Diego. I have been hearing uni from Catalina is really good right now.
The second drink on the menu was Opium Den. A mixed cocktail of Dewars, Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur and prosecco. I enjoyed this drink and found it went well with what was to come.
Which was a Washington Oyster Trio on ice. Spanning the length of the Silk Road with their toppings. One featured anchovy and parmesan, another white soy and crispy rice and the third was harissa and shaved octopus. Another Top Chef nod?
The oysters were followed by Crispy Razor Clams and Caviar with horseradish and creamy garlic. Chef Gourdet popped out to tell us we could use the shell as a spoon. Highly enjoyed by diners. Lovely taste of citrus on the clams made this one of my favorite dishes of the evening. It was as good as it looks. The clams were from Washington and were excellently prepared.
You might wonder how a menu would work with all seafood dishes. The secret was in the preparation of each dish. Grilled Sardine paired really well with grapefruit and was a good choice for something grilled. Topped with endive, fennel and pine nuts this little common fish was elevated to a new level. Lyf Gildersleeve spoke of how sardines are at risk because they are being used as food for farmed fish when other things could be used. Considering how sardines are eaten all over the world and is a major source of food for other fish they do need to be protected from being over fished.
Beautiful Seared Live Scallops seasoned with curry spice were served on their shells next. Plated with creamy cauliflower topped with lightly pickled florets. If I remember correctly the scallops were from the East Coast. Very fresh tasting with a heat that did not overwhelm the delicate flavor of the scallop.
I adored this dish. Avgolemono Seafood Chowder with Oregon clams, East Coast lobster, Alaskan spot prawns was amazing. You can tell when a dish is well liked by diners because it gets pretty quiet except for the sounds of eating. I've never had avgolemono before but I really want to learn how to make it because I want it again. I wish I had asked what kind of broth was used. Despite it's appearance it was not heavy or overwhelming with lemon flavor. Outstanding balance made this dish my favorite along with those fried razor clams.
The chowder was followed by a Chinese inspired Sweet and Savory Sea Eel made with ginger and topped with scallions plated with Salt Cod Fried Rice. Another dish nicely balanced with flavor. I have to be cautious when eating spicy food but I think because oils and spices are carefully used by Chef Gregory I am able to enjoy flavors I usually avoid.
Dessert was an inspired Orange and Olive Cake with Basil Ice Cream. Sprinkled with dates and pistachios with olive oil drizzled on the cake we were brought back to the Mediterranean. The flavors reminded me of food I had in Egypt. Another delicious dessert which was not heavy or overly sweet.
The synergy from the partnership that created this dinner made it one of my favorites. There were no dull moments or off dishes. There was a great flow to the courses. It was definitely a memorable meal.
Thanks to Departure for offering this special dinner series that showcases Chef Gregory Gourdet's cooking. In case you want to eat there, here is Departure's website.